The last domesticated elephant of the northern Highland

Ya Tao, the elephant of local Ksor Cham in Gia Lai Province, is now the only living domesticated elephant in the northern Highland region, a place once famous for its elephant residents.


Ksor Cham has refused to sell Ya Tao

Ksor Cham said many people had wanted to buy his elephant but he had refused them all. Ya Tao has become an important family member after living with them for over 50 years.

"In the old times, there were forest everywhere you looked and many families in the commune raised elephants," he said.

Cham said raising elephant was a family tradition. In 1973, he went to Buon Don District, Dak Lak Province to buy a male elephant named Bak Xom. Elephants played an important role in local lives. They carried the timber to build houses and acted as transport for the family.

In 1990, he bought a female elephant, Ya Tao, but five years later, Bak Xom died suddenly.

A number of domesticated elephants in the area died around the same time and then large parts of the forest were chopped down. Until these days, Ya Tao is the only living domesticated elephant left in the north of the highlands.

"They are destroying the forest. There are hardly any trees around here and the mountain is also losing its oldest trees. The wild elephants are disappearing too," Ksor Cham said.


The forest and elephants are disappearing

Since people starting using bricks to build houses, Ya Tao has had more free time, but Ksor still takes a good care of her. In the afternoon, Ksor's sons-in-law will take her to the lake or rivers to drinks and lead her to find food.

Several people and tourism companies in Vietnam and from Laos and Cambodia asked to buy Ya Tao and claimed they would help her breed. However, Ksor refused, fearing their real intentions.


Ya Tao is living alone as she hasn’t seen any fellow elephant for years

"Some people proposed VND1.5bn (USD68,100). I do want her to be able to have children but I don't know who these people were. If they are the government then I'd agree," he said.

Ya Tao is the living proof for the majestic of the highland elephant and its once popular domesticated elephants. Without any fellow elephant, Ya Tao's only comfort is the love of Ksor's family. She is taken care of and then at the end of the year, the family hold a ceremony to pray for her health.

"When we have money, we killed a whole buffalo as an offering or else we use pig, chicken and alcohol," he said. "I have so many memories with her. The wood to build this house were carried home by her. Everywhere I look, there are memories of her. I really love her."


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